Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Principles of a Marxist Approach to Criminology – Third Draft

Hi, after a year or so here is the third draft of my ideas of what the main principles of a Marxist criminology. Thanks to everyone who has commented on these ideas already. I think I've got them pretty much sorted now and I think my aim after hopefully reading lots of interesting comments from my readers on these will be to write it up into some sort of manifesto. (If you want to see the previous draft please click the first tag at the bottom).
Like around Christmas I'm going to be away for about a week or so, so you'll have to make do with some of the posts below for that period.

1) A Marxist approach to Criminology is not a separate theory of crime. Rather it is the use of Marxist ideas to study the phenomena studied by criminologists as part of an integrated study of society as a whole. Such an approach should draw on already existing Marxist concepts such as the State, Alienation etc.

2) Crime and criminal justice system should be understood in a criminal historical materialist context, we should look at their development to their present conditions. Allied to this would be an understanding that the economic context of a situation would have an impact on what types of crime are prevalent and how these will be responded to.

3) A marxist approach is moreover a class approach and sees crime to an extent as an expression of the conflict between classes in society. This is important in several important ways. Firstly, the ruling class in any each will have more power to define what is crime and to manage responses to crime in their interest. Due to this, crime will affect different classes differently as will the responses to crime.

4) As in the discipline of Criminology, a Marxist approach to Criminology would not just limit itself to studying crime as it is defined at the current moment. It would seek to take a definition of crime which is aligned with the interests of the working class and other oppressed layers in society.

5) A marxist approach is also an internationalist approach. However, crime and laws differ from country to country. Crime needs to be understood on various levels, from the local, to the regional, the national and the international.

6) As well as studying crime in ‘normal’ capitalist society, we should also seek to study what happened to crime and criminal justice during revolutionary periods and also in states that have claimed to be socialist.

7) We should seek to review how the workers movement has addressed the question in the past, as well as various intellectuals who have tried to put across arguments from a similar perspective (ie. Foucault, Jock Young etc.) and build upon these bases. We also need to keep abreast of ‘bourgeois’ criminologists and evaluate their ideas too.

8) As Marx says in his theses on Feuerbach, "Philosophers have hitherto interpreted the world, point is to change it". We should analyse crime and the criminal justice system from the point of the working class. We should put forward ideas of how a socialist/communist society would attempt to solve these problems, and fight for these to be adopted in the here and now.

9) We should seek to encourage debate and discussion between Marxists (and others) on issues related to criminology.

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Socialists on the Criminal Justice System – Karl Marx

The third article in my series examining the writings of various famous socialists on the criminal justice system. This article looks at Marx’s letter to the New York Tribune published in the Feb 17-18, 1953 issue and available at the Marxist Internet Archive ( Thanks to Rob from the Law and Disorder blog for pointing this article out to me and some of what I write is drawn from some of the comments he has made on this article. This letter by Marx is one that touches a fair few subjects, but I intend on limiting my remarks to the crime and criminal justice system related parts of it.

Marx starts the letter by quoting an observation in the Times that there seems to be a pattern of after hangings of either murders or suicides by hanging and suggests that this is due to the ‘powerful effect’ that a hanging a notorious criminal has on ‘a morbid and unmatured mind’. As Marx notes the purpose of the Times article is to exhalt capital punishment as good for society in getting rid of bad elements altogether.

This moves Marx on to other justifications for punishment – saying there are two main ones, either “…as a means either of ameliorating or of intimidating” Yet as Marx points out statistics clearly show that “…since Cain the world has neither been intimidated nor ameliorated by punishment. Quite the contrary.”

However, Marx notes that Hegel has a particular way of viewing punishment as the right of the criminal. Indeed he quotes from Hegel’s Philosophy of Right

“Punishment is the right of the criminal. It is an act of his own will. The violation of right has been proclaimed by the criminal as his own right. His crime is the negation of right. Punishment is the negation of this negation, and consequently an affirmation of right, solicited and forced upon the criminal by himself”

As Marx notes this makes the criminal purely a creature of free-will (which is exactly how the legal system treats them) and he points out “Is it not a delusion to substitute for the individual with his real motives, with multifarious social circumstances pressing upon him, the abstraction of “free-will” — one among the many qualities of man for man himself!” As Marx says, although an individual’s choice may play a role, there are other factors particularly social and economic ones.

Marx rejects all the definitions given above. As he goes on to state “Plainly speaking, and dispensing with all paraphrases, punishment is nothing but a means of society to defend itself against the infraction of its vital conditions, whatever may be their character.” This is perhaps one of the best sentences in the letter, encapsulating a basic feature of the Marxist characterisation of the state – that it’s main purpose is defend society as it exists, whether that means directly repressing threats to capitalism or less direct threats such as trying to contain crime affecting all layers of the population.

Marx then discusses some of the statistics by Quetelet to demonstrate that crime rates are relatively stable over time and thus punishment itself is not doing anything to reduce them and then states another key idea in Marxist criminology “…is there not a necessity for deeply reflecting upon an alteration of the system that breeds these crimes, instead of glorifying the hangman who executes a lot of criminals to make room only for the supply of new ones?”

Only by attacking the root causes of crime will we have the possibility of ridding society of it, and for Marxists this cannot be done under a system that is a breeding ground for crime like Capitalism.

Stop the Slaughter in Gaza

Socialist Party leaflet on the current attacks on Gaza. There is a national demo being called on Saturday in London as well as several other protests around the country.

Mass struggle is the only way out

Israel’s government’s rule has been a chain of scandals and failures, most recently the impact of the world capitalist crisis.
Now they are trying to save themselves from defeat in February’s elections by means of a wholesale slaughter of Palestinians in this long planned attack.
Abu Abas, Mubarak and the Arab League leaders condemn the massacre. But they were complicit in Israel’s starving of the Gaza’s 1.5 million inhabitants by Israel’s 16-month siege. These regimes willingly carry out the dictates of imperialism. Mubarak’s authoritarian regime in Egypt collaborated in the imprisonment of the Palestinians by preventing free movement of goods and people on Egypt’s border with Gaza. Mubarak even met Israel’s foreign minister Livni on the day before Israel’s attack.
Bush, and Obama, have refused to force Israel to immediately halt the carnage. Bush used similar brutality in the US occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. While Miliband makes feeble calls for a cease-fire, the White House does not criticise the massive Israeli onslaught and blames Hamas for provoking these attacks on Gaza. Bush supports the Israeli/Egyptian blockade of Gaza while condemning the consequent Hamas rocket fire into Israeli cities.
Hamas’ rocket fire cannot defeat the Israeli state’s oppression of Palestinians. The Israeli ruling class do not care about the working class inhabitants of the towns bordering Gaza, but uses their plight to justify the war. The Hamas leadership use the rockets as a means to hide their lack of any strategy to liberate the Palestinian masses from the Israeli siege. The Israeli government does not defend the real interests of ordinary Israelis, rather it exploits their fears.
Every gain made in the history of Palestinian struggle has been the result of active mobilisation of the masses. Tragically for Palestinians neither Hamas, nor Fatah, nor the Arab regimes, have a strategy to defend the masses and stop the Israeli state’s slaughter.

* For an immediate end to Israeli attacks. For and immediate end to the siege.
* For escalation of demonstrations and protests against the war, in the Middle East and internationally.
* No trust in the world powers or the United Nations. The Palestinian masses must trust their own struggle and appeal for support from the working masses internationally, especially in the Middle East, including Israel.
* Organize the masses in self-defence. Mass action by Palestinians and Egyptians to break the siege that imprisons Gaza.
* For united struggles by the workers and poor to overthrow all the capitalist regimes in the Arab states and in Israel. For worker’s governments across the Middle East which can end the cycle of violence by resolving the contentious issues in the interests of working people and start to create a society run for the needs of ordinary people.
* For a Socialist Palestine and a Socialist Israel as part of a Socialist Federation of the Middle East.

Monday, 29 December 2008

Socialism 2008: Review of China Seatshop of the World (2008)

Yes, the final Socialism 2008 post at last - only a matter of a month and a half after the event. But this wasn't a session at the event I'm reporting on (although as I said before it was pretty impressive seeing and hearing a Chinese Trotskyist speak at the main rally), it rather is a book I managed to get a hold of at the event.

The book is a collection of articles by two of the writers for, the CWI website for China. The majority of the articles are ones that have already appeared on the site over the last two years - however, they are some of the most interesting ones such as the one on Xinjiang province, the one on the Hong Kong Legco elections or the one on the Chinese coal industry. However, three of the articles were written especially for the book - one of which is on the Bejing olympics and it's green credentials and has also appeared on the site too, but the introductory chapter and closing chapters are both new for the book. The first examining low-paid sweatshop labour which seems to be the backbone of China's huge growth and the second examining all the points where struggle could erupt in China over the next few years.

I have to say, the more I read about China, the more interested I get. It is a huge country with a large portion of the world's population living there and what happens in China will be significant for people everywhere. And hence I recommend this book to people as a series of articles that will help you get a deeper understanding of the events in that country written by Chinese socialists. But it isn't all the material on China the CWI has been producing recently, for a start there is the excellent website with in depth analyses of events in China and the region as well as reports of workers struggles (the most recent one as I write this being a strike of airport workers in Hng Kong). Over the past year or two both the Socialist and especially Socialism Today have carried some really good articles on China too. It is worth getting much more interested in the issues in China and this book will certainly help with that.

(You can order the book from Socialist Books, - although it doesn't come up on the online bookshop)

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Film Review: Yes Man (2008)

I didnt think i'd do a 'serious' post today. So there's no real analysis of this film - just a few thoughts on something I went to see to relax.

I went to the cinema for the first time in ages yesterday. Given I'd read the book this was based on a long time ago I thought I'd give it a shout. And I have to say that the fact that I'd read Danny Wallace's Yes Man (supposedly a true story of what happened to him) coloured how I viewed the film. Mostly cos it's almost nothing like the book.

Instead the film has Jim Carrey star as the main character Carl, set in America instead of London and with a whole host of other characters not in the book. It was like they'd stripped the story down to its bare bones and then given it a whole new flesh. There was the odd bit of occasional bit that popped up from the book and a cameo appearance by Wallace but apart from that you would barely know it was the same person.

That said the story they've constructed around it wasn't that bad - it was an okay film with some quite good new quirks replacing Danny Wallace's own ones. However, it is only very loosely based on the book and to me having read the book it was a shame that some of the really quirky and funny parts of the book had been gotten rid of. It isn't a disaster, but I think I would rather of them make something that had actually based on the book.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Bob Fine on Law and Class – Part 1

This piece looks at the first section of the chapter by the same name in Capitalism and the Rule of Law a book consisting of a selection of papers from the January 1979 joint conference between the National Deviancy Conference and the Conference of Socialist Economics. By the way, I’ll be away for about a week so this post and the one below are to keep you going for some time.

Fine starts his paper by looking at E.P. Thompson’s critique of some left groups, castigating them for dismissing anything to do with the state could potentially be positive. However, Fine isn’t interested in them, rather the assumptions that underlie Thompson’s stance. He argues that

“For the basis of Thompson’s critique consists in an unflinching belief in the democratic character of the legal side of state power. He writes that law seems to him to be ‘an unqualified human good’, in that it ‘imposes effective inhibitions upon power’ and defends the citizen ‘from power’s all-intrusive claims’. No problem is raised over the form of bourgeois law itself, the only issue concerns the struggle against the intrusion of ‘class-bound procedures’ into the legal mechanism”(pg.30)

He goes on to argue that Thompson is stating that bourgeois law will form a basis for working-class power to develop from. To Thompson’s position he contrasts that of Engels, who argued that under communism law would disappear and that capitalist democracy, with bourgeois law and everything, complements the domination of capital. After quoting from Engels he says,

“The issue which these passages from Engels raise is that the bourgeois form of law is contradictory. Between two polar positions, between its dismissal as a mask and its elevation as an unqualified good, we need to understand the way in which law acts as a form of domination, the social basis upon which this form of power emerges and sustains itself, and thence the contradictory functions which it performs both for the rulers and the ruled, capital and labour.”(pg.31)

Fine, then discusses why he feels the form of law is of significance at that time. One is the question of law under Stalinism, and the second is the attacks on civil liberties and increases in police powers occurring at that time in Britain and elsewhere in Europe. He goes on to state:

“It is in this context, when the imperatives of capital accumulation and the class struggle have put into question the viability of the ‘rule of law’, and when we witness a movement toward the substitution of bureaucratic-police rule for social-democratic forms of power, centred around legality and parliamentary representation, that the issue of forms of bourgeois domination has emerged again with particular sharpness… it becomes imperative to differentiate between the forms of power through which the domination of capital is left mediated and secured… this emphasis on form poses its own dangers: that of neglecting the class content behind the forms of law; and of neglecting the significance of the erosion of legality for the imposition of new conditions of exploitation and accumulation.”(pg.32)

He then suggests that quite an apt place to draw from on these issues is Trotsky’s analysis of the rise to power of fascism in Germany and the transition to Bonapartism and then fascism and differences between these forms. He goes on to say

“…the significance of the form of law could not be separated from its content: namely, the class relations which constituted the foundation of the legal form; and the transformation of these class relations hidden behind the move first to ‘Bonapartism’, which relegated legality and parliamentarism to shadows of their former selves, and then to fascism which substituted for them brute force and police terror. The strength of Trotsky’s analysis was precisely to probe the links between these distinct forms of state power and the class relations which provide their substance. Trotsky, in the course of his extended critique both of those who identified social democracy with either Bonapartism or fascism, and of those who defended the spirit of the constitution as it elevated the bureaucracy above society, constantly searches for the class basis of these historical development.”(pg32-3)

After quoting an article of Trotsky’s (Fascism, Stalinism and the United Front) to further elaborate his point, Fine concludes his section with the following words.

“For Trotsky, the defence of the form of law could not be isolated from its content. Bourgeois law was not an absolute elevated above the conditions of civil society which gave it birth; but the expression of capital mediated by the independent organization of the working class. It was for this reason that it had to be defended against attack from the right and against indifference from the left as the political form necessary for the exercise of ‘proletarian democracy’ and for the transition to socialism.”(pg.33)

I have to say, I think Fine’s general point is really good. However, I think, although he states he isn’t making any ‘mechanical parallels’, it’s a little too much to exaggerate the attacks to civil liberties and increasing of police powers during the 70s and 80s to the coming to power of fascism in Germany, but the points regarding form and content which Fine makes through this I think are spot on. There is another point I want to take Fine upon which is the last sentence of the last paragraph I quoted. Whilst capitalist democracy is the most favourable political form for workers under capitalism, it is not ‘necessary’.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

An Appeal For Assistance

At the moment I am trying to read some materials in preparation for an essay about the Moscow Show Trials and the Great Purge in Stalinist Russia in the 1930’s. As some people may be aware, as the first trial was taking place Trotsky was placed under house arrest in Norway and unable to immediately reply effectively to the allegations made at this trial against him. In his stead, his son, Leon Sedov wrote the The Red Book on the Moscow Trials to defend both of them. However, Trotsky did publish a book in 1937 called the Crimes of Stalin. However, it was published in French (as Les Crimes Des Staline), but to my knowledge it hasn’t been published in English. The individual articles of course should have been published in the Writings of Trotsky for that period by Pathfinder Press, and sure enough I’ve found some in there – however, an introduction to a PDF of one of them (The Thirst For Power) on the Marxist Internet Archive says there are twenty six chapters of the book, but I’ve only found 8 chapters and the preface. I list them below as articles from two other publications that are mentioned in the notes to Trotsky’s Writings which I’m don’t know whether they are related or not. Can anybody help me work out what other chapters belong to this book?

(By the way I have the second edition of both Writings 35-36 and 36-37 published in 1977 and 78 respectively.)

Les Crimes Des Staline (The Crimes of Stalin)

Preface (36-37, pg.353)
In Closed Court (35-36, pg. 455)
In ‘Socialist’ Norway (35-36, pg.21)
Why They Confessed To Crimes They Had Not Committed (36-37, pg.56)
Thirst For Power (36-37, pg.64)
Hatred of Stalin (36-37, pg.67)
Notes En Route (36-37, pg.72)
On Sending Terrorists Into the USSR (36-37, pg.75)
The Preliminary Inquiry at Coyocan (36-37, pg.264)

El Proceso de Moscu

Seveteen New Victims of the GPU (36-37, pg.110)
The Truth Behind the ‘Voluntary Confessions’ (36-37, pg.131)
The New Trial (36-37, pg.128)
The ‘Voluntary’ Confessions of the Defendants (36-37, pg.149)
The Conspiracy’s Financial Resources (36-37, pg.151)
Industrial Sabotage (36-37, pg.150)
Muralov (36-37, pg.153)
Appeal to the League of Nations (36-37, pg.163)
Prosecutor Vyshinsky (36-37, pg.164)
Will the Defendants be Executed (36-37, pg.165)
Thirteen Are To Die (36-37, pg.181)
Those Who Have Been ‘Spared’ (36-37, pg.182)
Kaganovich Anticipates My End (36-37, pg.184)
The ‘People’ Call for Punishment (36-37, pg.185)

The Truth (About the Moscow Trials)

A New Moscow Amalgam (36-37, pg.115)
Pyatakov’s Phantom Flight to Moscow (36-37, pg.154)
Pyatakov’s Story Vague on Time and Place (36-37, pg.166)
Romm Frequented Dark Paris Alleys (36-37, pg.204)
A Mockery of Justice (36-37, pg.245)

Wales - The True Extent of Student Debt Exposed

From the most recent issue of the Socialist.

On Thursday 4 December, members of Bangor Socialist Students organised a 'Wall of Debt'.

Laurence Winch-Furness

Students could estimate how much debt they would be in by the end of their course. Around sixty students participated and the estimates were written on colour coded stickers, with the lowest estimate (0-£5000) being pale pink, whilst the highest (over £20,000) were dark green. Over half of all estimates were green, whilst only a handful were pink.
The highest estimate, at $128,000 (£78,000), came from an American overseas student. Joint second were two law students at £64,000. Only two students were in no debt at all, and one of these was a visitor from Finland, where education is free. Many students in the lower debt bands informed us they had had to save large sums of money before coming to university.
This is an indication of the problems facing students in Wales before top-up fees have been introduced. There is an urgent need for a mass campaign for free education and against all attacks on education in Britain.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Socialism 2008 - Where Now For The Bolivian Revolution?

The penultimate of my reports from Socialism 2008. Yes I know the event was over a month ago but it’s taken me a while because of how busy I’ve been. The finally post will be a review of the new book from which is a collection of articles about various things there.

This session had about 35-40 people in attendance and was addressed by Tony Saunois for the CWI and Annoukai?? (I’m not entirely sure its’s spelt that way) from the Bolivia Solidarity Campaign.

Announkai spoke first and she began with some general points about Bolivia’s history. She noted that unlike Venezuela, Simon Bolivar is not regarded in such a good light because only 5% of the population were counted as citizens when he created the country. She also pointed out that Bolivia is about half the size it was when it was created due to British armed Chile taking over the wealthy costal area full of Copper mines.
She noted that the main development of the economy was based around silver mines – because they were used to work these means lead to the indigenous peoples surviving much better in Bolivia. The Spanish created their own capital, Sucre, near the copper mines and built there the first university in the Americas to educate the children of Spaniards.
Tin eventually became the staple of the economy and the capital moved again to La Paz.
She then talked about the 1952 revolution. She pointed out that this revolution gave the indigenous population political rights, led to the reorganisation of the army and created the COB with what Annoukai called a transitional programme. Also the banks and some of the main industries were nationalised.
It also brought the MNR to power, but this was a pro-capitalist government that benefited from the revolution – their leader was actually out of the country when the uprising took place.
The miners had always been the most organised section of the population, and it was this section of the population that had to be defeated to introduce neo-liberal policies.
Privatisation – called capitalisation – was sold as the basis of developing industry, but led to several struggles.
In 2000 there were the Water Wars, in 2003 there were the Gas Wars in Cochabamba and El Alto (a slum near the capital, La Paz) and these struggles led to Evo Morales being elected with 54% of the vote as the first indigenous president of Bolivia.
On a final note to her contribution, Annoukai said she thought that if it hadn’t been for the support of Venezuela, Cuba and the Argentinian left Bolivia would have been facing a civil war much sooner.

Tony began by reiterating the importance of 1952 in Bolivia and the Water & Gas Wars, posing them in both cases to be revolutionary movements that have led to reform. Prior to Morales election there was an element of Apartheid in Bolivia which still prevails to an extent in the Media Luna. However, unlike Venezuela a revolutionary tradition runs through Bolivia which is better organised, especially the miners and ex-miners.
Then Tony talked about the situation that developed in Bolivia earlier this year. He said that it almost reached the situation of a civil war, with a constitutional coup attempted in the Media Luna. However, a 100,000 mobilised to defend the electoral minority there and this movement checked the counter-revolution. He also pointed out that Morales got an even bigger majority in the recall referendum than when he was elected with 65%, and compared this to the figure Allende obtained which was 44-5% at best.
He said that Morales had taken some steps, but not gone far enough. At all stages he has tried to negotiate with the right rather than seriously mobilise the masses and in a similar way to how Chavez did has called for a more humane ‘Andean Capitalism’.
Tony also talked about the proposed new constitution for Bolivia which has revived the possibilities of carrying through the 1953 agricultural reform more fully and pointed to one of the reasons this being needed due to the extent that bonded labour still exists in the Media Luna. However, over 200 amendments have been made to the proposed constitution which will be put to the vote on January 25th and this has made the reforms vague and will disappoint people.
In his final points Tony noted how the revolutionary movement as developing over quite a long period of time, in Bolivia since 2000 and also that because Bolivia is one of the poorest countries in Latin America it would be hit hard during the economic crisis.

There were various contributions from the floor, but the most interesting (and only one I fully wrote down) was from a comrade who had visited Cochabamba recently saying that he felt that the masses are beginning to tire of Morales, and especially the fact that always tries to negotiate with the right wing.

Annoukai then came back pointing out that the unions are in effect the main social organisation in Bolivia with unions even for children who clean shoes. She pointed out some gains of the revolution being the increase in life expectancy and literacy. She also said that she thought that talking about ethnicity in Bolivia is quite devisive given that there are around 32 potential different nationalities in the country.
She also talked a little about Morales saying that he had forced two generations in the army to retire which she thought was a blow to the right and also that she saw the revolution in Bolivia as being more of a bottom up revolution compared to Venezuela’s top-down one. She also stated that Morales takes a living wage (does he?) and for some reason decided to compare him with George Galloway in this respect (who certainly doesn’t take a living wage to my knowledge).

Tony starting in his reply by saying that the neighbourhood committees in Bolivia are very important, potentially these could take over power. He said there was also a history of left centrism in the country, of not going over from words to deeds. He also noted that there is serious opposition to Morales on the left in Bolivia and that MAS is less bureaucratic than the PSUV, although it is also a much looser organisation too. He concluded by saying that it may not be towards Bolivia we will be looking over the next few years, due to the economic recession he thought that struggles in Mexico, Chile, Brazil and Argentina will come to the fore.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Crisis Reveals The Biggest Fraudsters

50 billion dollars (£33.5billion)! That’s the amount former chairman of the Nasdaq stock exchange, Bernie Madoff, is alleged to have fiddled, making this a much bigger fraud than that of Nick Leeson. Whilst many people will not feel sorry for some of those affected by this scandal such as HSBC which is exposed to the tune of $1billion, RBS at $601million. The biggest hit is Santander’s Optimal Fund Management Unit at a whopping $3.1billion. Ordinary people probably will feel much more sorry for the charity workers that are getting the sack just before or after Christmas as a result of this. It is the biggest swindle ever perpetrated by one person.

It is somewhat telling that this has been discovered during an economic crisis. As the money markets have dried up Madoff’s Ponzi scheme collapsed. Based on paying off older investors with money given to him by newer investors such a scheme gives the appearance of large profits but with nothing of substance behind it. More schemes like this, perhaps not of such a scale, will be discovered as the crisis and recession deepens as investors begin, in a similar manner, to attempt to withdraw their finances from such schemes.

But this scheme probably could have been discovered before now, as a BBC news report discloses the US Securities and Exchanges Commission have received letters about this going back at least 9 years telling them that Madoff Securities was “the world’s largest Ponzi scheme”. It appears to be a case of exceptional blindness at best. The fraud of the rich isn’t usually a priority for capitalist politicians, indeed the whole neo-liberal era has been about stripping back regulation on the state.

The rules are different if you are poor though. Everyday on TV you see adverts from the UK government saying it is cracking down on benefit fraud. However, according to the DWP’s own website benefit fraud only amounted to £800million in the 2007-08 financial year – a pittance compared to the likes of Madoff (His fraud is 41 times bigger!). Not satisfied with driving down the living standards of working class people, we are portrayed as the criminals when the rich can swindle almost as they please. As ever its one rule for the rich and one rule for the rest of us.

Monday, 15 December 2008

National Free Education Demo Planning Meeting Report

On Sunday I was in Manchester for the second Open Planning meeting for this demo (provisionally the 25th February in London). I reckon there were between 40-45 people in the meeting, with quite a few from ENS, about 7 from Socialist Students, 5 or so SWP and then some people from Manchester's Reclaim the Uni (RTU) and some other. I of course was there delegated by Bangor Socialist Students Society.

Before I discuss the actual content, I want to talk a little about the way the meeting was run. RTU decided they wanted the meeting to use concensus decision making and after a short debate and vote it was decided to use it. I found it incredibly confusing as there were various different gestures and stuff we had to do and i found you couldn't tell if a decision had been made or not. Also, i found it potentially undemocratic as the facilitators have an awful lot of power to shape discussions and put forward their own proposals (or accept others without real debate such as changing the order of the agenda). As it was I felt the system began to break down towards the end under the size of the meeting and i think some people's growing frustrations with it.

The meeting started off with the organisation of the demo itself. I have to say i thought it was very clear that the SWP/Another Education is Possible(AEP) were very clear about their own plans for what they want to happen - they want their own rally at the end of the demo. (although they were less blunt than their leaflet in the meeting)
The meeting agreed a short rally before we set off (with speakers from various groups - my impression was at a minimum one person from AEP, one from ENS and one from Socialist Students)
There were suggestions of organising Direct Action heavily pushed by RTU. Personally I think direct action has its place as part of a wider, mass struggle as a tactic - not a stunt or an end in itself. What seemed to be discussed was a sort of conspiratorial thing with a keyword and the reason to do it would be to get lots of press. I think however, this would be press for the stunt and not the mass movement and would detract from it. There was also later on talk about 'creating a confrontation' as a way of 'energising' the movement (speakers from ENS and SWP suggested this). I think such talk is a little childish. Whilst we ought to be aware that the police have attacked demos in the past and could attack this one, we shouldn't try and create a provocation. That said we should organise proper stewarding to defend ourselves (this wasn't discussed - i think it was postponed to the next meeting)
Finally the preferred route of the march was discussed from Malet Street to Parliament Square which needed negotiating withe the police (to get a SOCPA permit etc.) and a committee was elected to do that.

The next thing discused was how to mobilise for the demo. There seemed to be an assumption that SU's who have declared their support for the demo will actively mobilise for it - however, from talking to some people at those Uni's this won't be the case with quite a few of them - as ever it will probably be up to the activists to mobilise for it (i guess thats why we're called activitis though!)
There was some discussion about publicity - most groups will produce their own leaflets, but there will be a very basic centrally produced leaflet with the just the three main demands (not to marketisation of education, no to fees, living grants for all students - perhaps the wording is slightly off but you get the gist) and the details of the demo, mostly for the use of any smaller groups who want to use it locally and add to it.
There was also some discussion of building for it outside of universities (i think everyone there was a university student (or left student group organiser)). There was mentioned the support the demo had received from the UK Youth Parliament. Then came the contentious bit.
During the discussion Matt Dobson raised how the fact that many FE students hadn't been paid EMA on time was a source of much anger their and would be something that FE students would be more than willing to campaign on. I backed this up with my experience in Bangor (see september posts on this blog) and suggested it be added to the demo's aims/slogans. This was opposed both by ENS and SWP. Their argument was that by adding it it would mean potentially adding an avalanche of other demands reagrding sections of students. However, in countering that I argued that EMA affects a huge proportion of all FE students and thus cannot be compared to International Students, Postgraduate Students, Part-Time Students etc. (which aren't small groups either). Also they said that it was covered under the slogan of a living grant (which is technically true, but saying EMA makes it a lot clearer to FE students I have found) Needless to say, that addition was blocked. I think that was a big mistake and I actually wish I'd been a bit sharper and forceful on this question as I think it is something that could have mobilised more FE students to join in the demo and link the questions of FE and HE funding and living costs together. (especially because it would show up NUS a bit that we do care about FE students, seeing how they always bang on about FE students).

And on that note the meeting, sort of ended, but actually carried on for another five minutes discussing the NUS extraordinary conference in January. Points were made about how the timing of it will exclude ordinary students who will be doing exams, and also how the turnout could probably be lower than the last one. What response we should have to it was discussed briefly but was still open at the end, so wait and see.

And then I had a 2 1/2 hour journey back to Bangor turn into a 5 hour one. Thanks privatised railway network!

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Stalinist Cluedo and other things

Last night was the Bangor Uni Socialist Students end of year social at my flat. After the hectic term we've had already it was nice to chill out and relax. It didn't stop us talking politics, particularly about the upcoming USDAW elections (as several of us work in local supermarkets) and the government attacks on benefits too. We also watched the CNWP DVD about Terry Fields - which is very interesting and worth getting from Merseyside CNWP, as well as doing the quiz in the latest issue of the Socialist - which the team of yours truly won.
And then out came the board games (people would be suprised to know that the outright favourites of society members are Monopoly and Risk - which is rather ironic!). But the game that amused us most was the varient of Cluedo we developed based on the Stalinist bureaucracy - with the characters being bureaucrats (including Stalin whom everyone had to suggest someone else as a possible suspect first). The highlights of the alternative weapons were being killed with a hammer and a sicle, and also being crushed under the weight of the bureaucracy. Perhpas its an idea for next years fighting fund? (or not)

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Brunstrom Watch: Motoring Convinctions Targets

This is going to be a semi-regular series looking at the latest antics of North Wales' very own Police Chief Constable, the outspoken Richard Brunstrom who never seems to be out of the press. (So much so that we've even had lectures examining some of his claims!)

I don't usually read the Telegraph, ever. But I do get a e-mail summary of crime-related news every day and this story lept out at me.

Of course, for the Telegraph it's targets gone mad time. Oh, and it also calls him the "Mad Mullah of the Traffic Taliban".

So what's the story really about. Brunstrom is known for cracking down on motoring offences, especially speeding. He has a quite hardline approach on the issue, with crackdowns using speed cameras, stopping drivers and testing them for drunkenness etc. The Telegraph reports that he has recently detailed a police officer to stand outside a school until he had booked five motorists for not wearing seat belts.

In a post on his blog ( Brunstrom argues that his methods work citing some figures from a graph. However, the amount of road deaths in North Wales are tiny so you can't really judge from them either way. The thing that is clear is the amount of local people this approach seems to piss off (the Socialist Party in Wales have received e-mails about this too!)

And now his own police officers too apparently. As the Telegraph reports

"Now leaders of the Police Federation, which represents 1,588 officers in the region, want talks with Mr Brunstrom over discontent over management style, mounting paperwork, and targets for penalty tickets.
A survey of more than 500 officers in north Wales revealed many felt overburdened by bureaucracy and that they felt pressurised into concentrating on issuing tickets rather than properly investigating crimes.
At a meeting of North Wales Police Authority the Police Federation representative Chris Warner complained that his office had been inundated with emails from officers concerned about "quantity not quality" demands at Christmas. "

Frankly I think this kind of populist bluster about the police investigating crimes properly rather than being weighted with bureaucracy certainly gets quite a bit of public support - but then that depends on what your definition of a crime is - what is the Police Federation's definition of a crime? Quite possibly not the same as me - for me it's things like violent crimes, sexual crimes, personal property crimes and organised crime - at least they are the things that police investigation can be beneficial on improving situations for ordinary people. Either way, I certainly, after a recent experience that I will blog about soon, detest fixed penalties/administrative penalties/on-the-spot fines with a vengence, likewise the same with police arrest/penalty notice targets. Both aim to achieve 'summary justice' where more crimes can be chlked up as having been dealt with promptly - by criminalising stuff that people usually aren't criminalised for.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

A Brief Look At The UK's History of Laws for Preventive Detention

This is part of an essay i'm handing in today, but I think it demonstrates rather effectively the extent the which similar laws have been around in the past.

Historically in Britain preventive legislation has been used to combat terrorism in the past. Although many writers such as Fenwick (2002) suggest that preventive detention to combat terrorism in Britain was first introduced in the 1974 Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Powers) Act (PTA), as Blum (2008) notes, it was the 1939 Prevention of Violence (Temporary Powers) Act (PVA) which introduced powers to detain people for up to seven days. Initially this act was only to last for two years, but it wasn’t allowed to expire until 1952 and only repealed in 1973. The PTA was a reintroduction of the PVA, mostly as a response the bombing of two pubs in Birmingham that year, with seven days detention that needed to be justified by reasonable suspicion of involvement in acts of terrorism. However, the PTA also introduced the ability to hold someone without access to a lawyer for the first 48 hours. Like the PVA, the PTA was continually renewed (in this case until 2000), but was also rewritten on several occasions. According to Blum (2008), 27,000 people were arrested between 1973 and 1996 under the act, although only 15% were ever charged with a crime.
An additional set of powers was granted in the 1973 Northern Ireland (Emergency Powers) Act which allowed the government to detain terrorist suspects without charges for 72 hours, not even needing the former ‘reasonable’ suspicion. As Blum (2008) notes, although these powers were suspended in 1987 in favour of the provisions of those in the PTA, the Act was still renewed in Parliament until 2000.
The reason why both the above sets of powers were not renewed after 2000 was that that year saw the first permanent act dealing with preventive detention in the UK, the 2000 Terrorism Act (TA). The TA incorporated the provision of similar powers to both the PTA and PVA allowing for seven days detention without charge on the grounds of reasonable suspicion. It is worth noting that although it did not grant extra powers, this making permanent of previously temporary legislation occurred before the attacks of 11th September 2001. It was only in 2003 that the TA was amended to include preventive detention for 14 days (Blum, 2008). Additionally, as Fenwick (2002:81) comments “The reality behind the ‘temporary’ provisions appears to be that for much of the twentieth century UK governments have kept emergency legislation on file or in suspension, ready to be brought into law at short notice…”

After the events of 11th September 2001, the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act (2001) (ATCSA) was introduced which allowed for the indefinite detention or deportation of any foreign national suspected of being engaged in terrorist activity (Blum, 2008). However, as Blum (2008:16) notes these powers did not survive as “The government ultimately repealed the provisions of ATCSA dealing with indefinite detention based on a House of Lords Judicial Committee December 2004 ruling that such powers were incompatible with articles of the European Commission on Human Rights relating to the right to liberty and the right to freedom from discrimination. The Committee found the indefinite detention powers to be discriminatory as they only applied to foreign nationals, not to British citizens, and that they were not proportionate to the threat Britain faced from terrorism.” The provisions of this act during its three year life affected 17 foreign nationals in Britain (Blum, 2008).
A further Terrorism Act of 2006 (TA06) created provisions for 28 days preventive detention, but this was subject to strict judicial review of the detentions (Blum, 2008). During the summer of 2007 there were attempts to extend the period of preventive detention to 56 days, however, as Blum (2008) points out, both the four options presented for this and proposed civil emergency legislation to extend the period of detention by 30 days were defeated in Parliament. Over the last year there has also been debate about extending preventive detention up to 42 days, but the government appears to have dropped this for the present.
However, preventive detention has not just been used in relation to terrorist threats it has also been used during both world wars. As Blum (2008) notes, Regulation 14B, which was enacted in 1915, gave powers which enabled the Home Secretary to order the detention of anyone they thought endangered public safety or the nation. Similarly, Regulation 18B gave similar powers to the Home Secretary during World War II, and as Blum (2008) notes, over 2000 people were detained under these powers. However, as Blum (2008) points out, the difference between these powers and are those for Northern Ireland was that the latter were not uncontrolled executive powers but pre-trial detention which meant there could be judicial review of the detention.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Towards Effective Green Left Unity

The following statement has already appeared on the Nation of Duncan and A Very Public Sociologist. There has been some discussion posted on AVPS already (whilst I encourage people to check the debate this blog does have a slightly different readership to AVPS). The statement is sort of self-explanatory and I believe is due to be published in this Thursdays issue of the Socialist. - Oh and there are some criminology posts coming soon!

The following is a statement produced by the Socialist Party following correspondence between the Lewisham Socialist Party and the Lewisham Green Party after a Green Party candidate was revealed to be on the membership list of the BNP:

ONE of the Green Party candidates who stood in Telegraph Hill ward, south London in the 2006 local elections appears on the list of alleged BNP supporters recently leaked to the media. This ward, in the London borough of Lewisham, is represented by two Socialist Party members, Ian Page and Chris Flood, who have been councillors there since 1990 and 2003 respectively.
When the list was published Lewisham Socialist Party was asked to comment. Aware that the list, leaked by disgruntled BNP members, did not necessarily imply support for the far-right party, we contacted the individual named, who informed us that he had never been a supporter of the BNP and their racist ideas.
We accepted his assurance but, as there were others on the list who have been Green Party members and who have also been BNP supporters, we also wrote to the Lewisham Greens for their views before we made any public comment.
Darren Johnson, a Lewisham Green councillor and London Assembly member, replied, saying that, “knowing him as I do”, he was convinced that the individual concerned had been “the victim of a malicious prank” and had given “no indication whatsoever that he shared the obnoxious views of the BNP”.
But Darren Johnson also conceded that their ex-candidate, who had no campaigning record in Telegraph Hill, “has had no active involvement in the Green Party for the past two years”, in other words, since the 2006 elections.
This raises a wider question: even if, as it appears, the candidate was not sympathetic to the BNP’s poisonous ideas, why did Lewisham Green Party conclude that he was a better representative of anti-cuts, anti-privatisation and pro-environment policies in Telegraph Hill than the sitting Socialist Party councillors, Ian Page and Chris Flood?
The Socialist Party has consistently approached the Green Party to discuss whether we could come to an electoral agreement, at least to not stand candidates against each other where possible. Through the Socialist Green Unity Coalition, for example, we discussed this with the Green Party’s national election officer, who confirmed that such agreements could be made by local parties.
The Socialist Party and the Green Party have important differences. The Socialist Party believes that fundamental change is necessary to save our environment, which can only be achieved by democratic public ownership of the major companies that dominate the globe.
On Lewisham council the Green councillors have not always backed the Socialist councillors’ proposals to resist the pro-market agenda of the establishment parties – New Labour, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats. But there is sufficient agreement, we believe, for us to seriously discuss possibilities for electoral agreements.
Unfortunately that has not been the approach of Lewisham’s Greens. Their strategy in the 2006 elections was to stand as widely as possible, regardless of who they were standing against or the record and commitment of their candidates.
The Greens stood three candidates in the three-seat Telegraph Hill ward in 2006, who each polled around 400 votes – well short of winning but far more than the gap between the New Labour candidate elected as the third ward councillor and the third-placed Socialist Party candidate, Jess Leech. Was it really necessary to stand in Telegraph Hill and allow New Labour to slip in? Especially as there were other, New Labour-held wards, in Lewisham where the Greens only stood one candidate?
Darren Johnson hasn’t accepted our offer to discuss what lessons from all this there may be for the future. But the Socialist Party plans to stand more widely in Lewisham in the next local elections in 2010 along with, we hope, local trade unionists and representatives of different campaign groups fighting to save council housing, defend education, and keep our NHS safe from privatisation. They too will expect that Lewisham Green Party would co-operate to maximise the electoral challenge to the establishment parties.

Additionally commentary from Neil Cafferky from the Socialist Party national office -

I should emphasise at this point that this is NOT an attack on the Green Party for having an election candidate who has since appeared on the BNP membership list, although it is reasonable to seek clarification from the Greens regarding their knowledge of this person’s politics in response to quires from voters in the area. Nor is the Socialist Party trying to dictate to the Green Party who or where they can stand. That is, of course, a decision that must be taken by the members of the Green Party themselves.

What the Socialist Party is seeking from the Green Party in Lewisham, and elsewhere in the country, is clarification on their relationship with the rest of the Left on the electoral field.
With the new mood of co-operation on the Left following recent setbacks in the quest for a new workers party and with the possibility of an general election in the summer it is vital that the strongest possible challenge is put up to all the establishment parties by socialist, trade unionists, community activists and environmentalists.

Hopefully this can be the beginning of a discussion between socialists and Green Party members on the best way forward to challenging the rule of profit, big business and environmental destruction.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Judiciary challenged over the right to protest

I'm currently writing an essay for uni on preventive detention and saw this in this weeks issue of the Socialist. I'm goona put up a few more posts on this subject in the next week or so.

THE MAY Day Detainees went back to court last week. This time they appealed to the House of Lords against the judgement from the High Court, which said it was lawful for the Metropolitan Police to hold 3,000 anti-capitalist protesters for up to nine hours in Oxford Circus on May Day 2001.

Socialist Party reporters

Then, the detainees were contained and surrounded by rows of riot police and police on horseback and told they were not allowed to leave and were denied access to toilet facilities, food and water.
The May Day Detainees set up a campaign in defence of the right to protest which has involved court action, accusing the police of false imprisonment under the Human Rights Act.
The test case detainee is Lois Austin, Socialist Party member and campaigner. Lois was refused permission to leave the containment even though she had to collect her eleven month-old baby from a nursery.
The trial judge, Judge Tugendhat, proclaimed that the detainees were not aggrieved by their detainment but in actual fact quite enjoyed it! He also said that while there was a deprivation of liberty the police had no choice but to hold the crowd in this way because it was necessary to prevent a breach of the peace.
The findings of the original judgement are extremely dangerous for the right to protest in this country. It gives a green light to the police to ban any protest because one or two members of the crowd may be involved in, or about to commit, activity the police deem to be violent or threatening a breach of the peace.
The court of appeal took the view that there was no deprivation of liberty. They found that the detention in Oxford Circus was akin to holding away fans at a football match or holding car drivers up on a motorway after an accident.
They also said that the police action was justified under article 51b of the Human Rights Act because the crowd was being held to assist police officers in carrying out their duties, which were to arrest those threatening a breach of the peace. Apart from article 51b, the court of appeal said that the Human Rights Act did not come into it.
The detainees will get the verdict from the law lords in a couple of months but if the discussion in the court is anything to go by, it isn't looking good.
Human rights
The sometimes surreal discussion on issues relating to human rights was eye opening at times.
A discussion on rights that we all believed to be unqualified, like the right not to be tortured, or to be illegally imprisoned, was alarming. Some of the law lords at the trial seemed to be hinting that maybe torture only becomes torture once a certain threshold is reached!
The May Day detainees' QC had to remind the law lords that the right not to be tortured is, according to the Human Rights Act, an unqualified right and thresholds of what is acceptable do not come into it.
We have to wait and see what the Law Lords' judgement will be. There didn't seem to be much sympathy for the detainees during the hearing. Whatever the verdict, the right to protest is under attack and must be defended.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Police and teachers go on strike in Hunan province

This piece is from the website of the CWI for China. Interestingly the police strike started from the assistants - i've also heard suggestions that it was the attitude taken by police support staff (UNISON members) towards pay that contributed to the police demo in January this year. Is this a general trend?

Fri, 5 Dec 2008.

First strike action by police officers since the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976

On the same day, December 2, in Hunan province, more than 100 police in Laiyang City seized control of the city government building for three hours to demand increased wages, while in Longhui County, over 1,000 teachers took collective strike over unpaid allowances.
According to reports on the internet, at 11am on Tuesday, over 100 police and "contracted police deputies" in Laiyang City, staged protests at the government building. Some of the protesting policemen drove patrol cars onto the square. Most of the protesters were police assistants on temporary "contracts", but their number also included dozens of "formal" police officers. They seized the government building and a violent conflict took place with security guards.
The protesters demanded an increase in basic income for police and police assistants. Currently a "contracted" police assistant in Laiyang only earns 650 yuan per month, and the salary of "formal" police officers is also only two-thirds the level of police in Changsha, the provincial capital. It is believed that this is the first case of large-scale protest by policemen since the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976.

400 million misappropriated

On the same day, in Longhui County (also in Hunan Province), over 1,000 teachers took strike action demanding allowance arrears from the local government. The strike organisers published a public letter, "Message to teachers of the whole county", calling for a sit-in by teachers in the whole county. They termed this a "soft strike", meaning that teachers should not leave the schools. Teachers said that local governments had misappropriated 400 million yuan from teachers' allowances over the past 10 years. This money is sent by central government to top up teachers' meagre earnings.
The striking teachers demand the county government and Board of Education immediately repay these subsidies, of 210 yuan per month, over several months. Since 2002 it was agreed teachers should receive 13 months' wages, but only got 12 months' wages. They demand the government pay these 5 months' wages. According to rules set by central government, the average wages of teachers in compulsory education should not be lower than the average wages of local civil servants. Following the example of this teachers' strike, it was reported that teachers in the neighbouring county of Shaoyang also planned similar protests.
One retired teacher in Shaoyang county told Radio Free Asia, "We appealed many times to the county government and even the provincial government, but they stalled and did not reply to our demands. We have to go on strike, and even sit-strike in front of the provincial government building."China has experienced a wave of teachers strikes recently. has recieved reports of 31 strikes in 8 provinces including, in addition to Hunan, Sichuan, Shaanxi and Hubei. The conditions of teachers are precarious despite promises by China's government to give more money to education.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

For a genuine fightback against fees, cuts and privatisation

Socialist Students statement on national protest on February 25. Anyways, must dash as i'm off to speak at a meeting in Manchester later on.

With the review of funding for higher education taking place next year, it is urgent that a campaign is built mobilising students to defend their rights. Already Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have introduced university tuition and top-up fees, and they currently stand at up to £3,000 a year. University vice-chancellors, through their organisation Universities UK (UUK), are keen to see this raised in the 2009 review, and are attempting to push the government to allow universities to charge up to £6,000 or maybe even more. Students need to build a fightback against this possibility, which would have devastating effects for tens of thousands of young people. But we also need to fight against the idea that education is a commodity and should be paid for. Socialist Students has initiated the Campaign to Defeat Fees, which has organised the most successful action on campuses against fees recently, coordinating action in over 50 universities and colleges in highly successful days of action. The Campaign to Defeat Fees has a wide range of support, including leading figures from the trade union movement including John McDonnell and Tommy Sheridan, students unions and over 5,000 individuals.

Unfortunately, the National Union of Students (NUS) leadership has so far not been prepared to launch a serious challenge to the demands of UUK. The leadership of the NUS are politically at one with the government of Brown, and in reality wish to allow the New Labour government free reign, with as little trouble from angry students as possible. They have had a conscious policy of constantly downplaying any action, and of promoting the idea that students cannot win against fees, but should restrain themselves to asking for slight improvements. Instead of battling against fees and for students, the policy of the NUS leadership has been to concentrate on destroying democracy in the NUS in order to insulate themselves from the demands of students.

This raises the question of how can a fight against fees be built on a national level. Socialist Students, as well as being involved in the Campaign to Defeat Fees, has argued for an organisation that brings together those who are opposed to the attacks of the government and the strategy of defeat from the NUS leadership. This should aim to involve as many students as possible, and bring together those students unions involved in fighting back and campaigning, alongside activist groups and individuals. This organisation would have to be based on building coordinated action, of aiming to involve and convince as many students as possible to get involved in campaigning, and on general demands of opposition to fees, cuts and closures and for a better education system for all.

To ensure that this works, it would also have to be organised along democratic lines, guaranteeing representation for those involved and allowing individuals and groups to put forwards different ideas and different strategies. No group should be allowed to dominate and there must be democratic accountability of the steering committee.

Socialist Students is in favour of a serious strategy in the campaign against fees, which should definitely involve national mobilisations and demonstrations. However, a serious strategy should be based on an assessment of a number of factors at every stage. What is the mood amongst students? What level of support could be gained for a national demonstration? What forces are involved in building for the demonstration? What is students' perception and awareness of those forces? How widely can we publicise our action? How many do we estimate that we will be able to mobilise? Will it be seen to represent a step forwards for students in our battles?

Socialist Students has called for and raised the idea with thousands of students of a national demonstration against fees called by the National Union of Students. Given the wide recognition of the NUS, the huge resources that are available to it, the big potential for media coverage etc, this would be the best situation. It would also open the door for genuine anti-fees activists to campaign and build as big a mobilisation as possible. This is comparable, although on a smaller scale, to the NUS 'students in the red' day of action earlier this term, which although organised around very limited slogans, presented an opportunity for activists to build action and gain broader support for those protests. This was an opportunity seized by Socialist Students, although unfortunately ignored by the Socialist Worker Student Societies (SWSS).

However, given the failure of NUS to call action and the urgency of the issues, it is correct that activists do not just give up, and that we take initiatives of our own. The Campaign to Defeat Fees has organised several days of action to mobilise students, building from below rather than waiting for the 'official' structures. However, where we have called protests and initiatives we have ensured that they are properly planned and built for. SWSS has so far called three national demonstrations this term, none of which have had more than a few hundred in attendance. To call a 'national' initiative without the means to mobilise on a national scale can give the impression that there is less of a mood to fight than is the case. Such unilateral action does not strengthen the movement.

Socialist Students want the event on 25 February to be as strong and positive as possible. We think that the best way for this to happen is for activists and activist groups to build support and to mobilise for this protest. But with the limited resources of those involved so far, this protest may not fully show the extent of students' opposition to the raising of the cap and education commercialisation. Nevertheless, it could be a step towards the national mobilisation necessary for a truly national demonstration. Therefore Socialist Students proposes that the main slogan of the protest should be 'for a national demonstration against fees, cuts and privatisation'.

This protest should also be organised along democratic lines. The most democratic way to do this is to allow everyone to have their say and to contribute to discussions, but to prevent any one group taking over. The planning meeting that has been called on 14 December should elect a committee to organise the protest, based on guaranteeing representation for students unions, strands of opinion and campaigning groups relative to their size and weight in the student movement. Unfortunately so far this has not been the case, primarily through the approach of SWSS who have attempted to impose their will on others, firstly at the Another Education is Possible conference, and now more recently in unilaterally naming a date for a national demonstration against fees, on the 25 February. In fact, there is an argument that a date later in the spring may give more time to mobilise support. But debates and discussions like this show precisely why there needs to be a more democratic structure than is in operation at present. A more democratic structure would also aid the protest in ensuring the best balance of speakers at the protest and different views and ideas being heard and ensure that the follow up to a spring protest is properly prepared.

For this campaign to be successful, it cannot just be limited to one action. The best way to ensure that effective opposition to fees is built for an alliance to be built that offers a fighting strategy that will bring together student activists, and inspire others that they can play a role in the fight for free education.

Monday, 1 December 2008

India: Mumbai Mayhem

This is a statement from the Indian section of CWI, New Socialist Alternative

Defeat the terror of communalism and capitalism

The horrific terror attack in Mumbai on 27 November must be condemned on all counts. It took place at the usually crowded CST railway station and six other prime locations killing at least 140 people (the figures are likely to reach 200 or more) and injuring hundreds. The "Deccan Mujahidin" an unknown Islamic terror group, has claimed responsibility.
Our hearts go out to those families, relatives and friends who are gravely affected by these heinous acts, carried out by whatever group or organisation. The government of Maharashtra and concerned authorities should immediately compensate those families who have lost their beloved. We are sure that all communities, be it Hindu, Muslim or Christian, are terror struck, not just in Mumbai, but the entire country. Democratic workers' organizations, trade unions and local organisations of all communities should organise defence against terrorism alongside a struggle against capitalism, landlordism and imperialism.
Since the 9/11 Twin Tower attacks in America, terror attacks have been on the increase in India. Governments in New Delhi, notwithstanding what party is in power, have closely allied themselves with Washington, culminating in a highly controversial nuclear energy (weapons) deal. In recent months, every major city of India has witnessed such atrocious attacks, killing dozens if not hundreds of innocent people.

Communal polarisation

Capitalist governments around the world have followed the same policies as the American administration under the tutelage of the universally hated George Bush, to completely alienate Muslim people by labeling them as terrorists or as potential terrorists. In India, the historical communal divide has been further strengthened by this undeclared communal profiling of minorities especially Muslims.
State governments led by the BJP, or the congress-led UPA government at the centre, are directly responsible for the disaffection among the youth, particularly those from the Muslim community, who, though in small numbers, are joining the ranks of these desperate terrorist outfits.
It has become a pattern for India's establishment to either put the blame on the culpable ISI (Pakistan's Intelligence) or on their favorite whipping boys – the SIMI (Students' Islamic Movement of India) to demonise them in the eyes of the ordinary people. This by no means absolves from responsibilities the monstrous groups which practice the methods of terror. Their activities strengthen the Hindu right wing extremist communal forces and the state machinery which will only use the opportunity to trample upon the rights of the working people in particular and human rights in general.

Hindu fundamentalist terror's hidden agenda

Left wing radical columnists such as Ram Punyani and Subhash Gatade have extensively written on the phenomenon which has come to be known as the 'Saffron Terror' of the Hindu fundamentalist organisations. The recent blasts Malegaon (in Maharashtra) which led to the arrests of Sadhvi ( saint) Pragya Singh and her two associates, puts a question mark on the whole theory of Jihadist terror itself.
The thuggery of Raj Thackeray of the Maharashtra Navnirman Samithi (MNS) which is terrorising migrant labour in Maharashtra state coming from Uttara Pradesh, Bihar etc. is no less terror than the allegedly Islamic terror.
Vishwa Hindu Parishad's (VHP) rabble rouser, Pravin Thogadia, and the infamous Narendra Modi, 'Gujarat's Hitler', are known for their communal politics, bordering on fascism. These Hindu communal 'celebrities' must also be brought to book. Even today, it sends a chill down the spines of millions of Muslim people to remember the mass terror, - rape, murder and looting - that was perpetrated against the helpless Muslims in Gujarat during the 2002 Godhra riots.
Whether it is the mass terror of the Sangh Parivar (RSS and its family) – Rashtriya, Swayamsevak Sangh) comprising of the BJP, VHP, Shiv Sena, MNS, Sanathan Sanstha, Durga Vahini, Bajarang Dal, Abhinav Bharat, Akhila Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, Rashtriya Jagaran Manch, Hindu Raksha Samithi etc, criminalising and brutalising the whole of society, or the individual terror tactics of Islamic Jihadist groups, they are polarising an already divided society. They will propel society further into the blind alley of hatred and revenge and possibly lead to a civil war situation.
Statistics and facts reveal that neo-liberalism and communalism have fed on each other to serve the interests of capitalism in India. From 1991, the aggressive neo-liberal offensive has had friendly co-operation from rising Hindu communalism; the 1992 destruction of the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya did derail and divert the attention of the working class movement from the real issues of Rice and Sāmbhar – Roti and Sabji.

Class unity and Class Action now!

The honeymoon enjoyed by Congress has visibly come to a sudden end. The mandarins in the south block of Delhi, who, until recently, were basking in the glory of an unprecedented boom and the aura of the Nuclear deal with Washington, are scrambling for scapegoats both economically and socially. The shrill tones with which the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has warned India's "neighbours" of the costs, points to the desperation of the Indian establishment. An attempt to drum-up jingoism by some dramatic antics may have been crossing the minds of the powers-that-be to save them from an electoral rout in the ongoing provincial round of elections and, more importantly, in the general election in the middle of next year.
The BJP and its henchmen organisations who are preparing for a national come back in the next general election will use the present atmosphere of grief and despair to whip up a communal backlash to take advantage of the social crisis.
The already set-in recession in the economy is preparing to further devastate the lives of the working poor, peasants and the middle class in the coming weeks and months. The coming period demands all the combativity the working class can muster to defend the interests of the workers and poor. Class unity is the need of the hour. We urge workers, be it Hindu, Muslim, Christian or Sikh, to be vigilant and united to thwart any attempt to divide their class on bloody communal lines.
The trade unions, workers and community organisations must act to defeat these sinister attempts to divide and rule to rake in political profits.

We demand:-

  • Justice for those affected and meaningful compensation to victims and their families
  • Area committees of workers and poor to defend the blast and riot affected areas.
  • No to terrorism!
  • Common, united struggle of workers and poor for justice, against exploitation and poverty.
  • No trust in the official state forces. The right of the lower ranks of the police and auxiliary forces to belong to trade unions and elect representatives to the area committees.
  • Capitalism breeds communalism and terrorism. Dump it!
  • Democratic socialism is the only answer
  • Congress, BJP and all other political parties defending capitalism offer no choice at all
  • Build a new mass workers' party
  • Fight for a New Socialist Alternative

Friday, 28 November 2008

Socialism 2008 – Review – Socialism and Left Unity by Peter Taaffe (2008)

Whilst this isn’t really a session at Socialism 2008, this book was launched there and is a critique of the ideas and methods of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). It does take up some of the points that were debated in the session at Socialism 2008 on Building a Revolutionary Party (of which there is a video of on the Socialist Party website -

The book begins with some general points about why the Socialist Party (SP) thinks debates on the methods and ideas of organisations are important for serious attempts at left unity. The first section proper discusses the origins of the SWP and the Socialist Party and their ideas in relation to Stalinism – particularly criticising their idea of the USSR and other states as being state capitalism and the problems with this definition. The next chapter begins with focussing on how these ideas led to problems after the collapse of Stalinism in the early 1990’s and their idea of this decade being “the 1930’s in slow motion”.

It then moves on to discuss the approach of the SWP towards the anti-capitalist movement – in particular their use of the slogan – another world is possible - compared to the SPs – a socialist world is possible. It also takes up Trotsky’s transitional programme, what the SP believes to be the misapplication of the idea of transitional demands.

Next up is the attitude of the SWP to the rest of the left – its role in relation to the Socialist Alliances and also the role of its sister organisation in Germany. To this the approach of the SP is contrasted with that of the SWP, particularly how the SP argued for a federal approach in that organisation with the SWPs ‘rule or ruin’ approach. It then deals with the RESPECT saga too. This area is then dealt with again later in the book in a section entitled “United Front Today and the Left in Germany”.

The book then goes discusses a few incidents in the trade unions in the 90’s before taking up disagreements in the PCS and NUT between the SP and the SWP. The section after this discusses the SWP’s anti-fascism work – after discussing the successes of the Anti-Nazi League – it critiques what the SP believes were some of its failures – it’s “Don’t vote Nazi” slogan which leaves open the possibility of voting for other capitalist parties and the lack of democracy within that organisation and then deals with the role of Unite Against Fascism in recent years.

The final section deals with the internal regime of the SWP, in particular the use of top-down bureaucratic methods when dealing with serious disagreements inside the organisation giving examples of the expulsion of their US sister organisation and in relation to break up of RESPECT and then contrasts this with the SP and the CWI.

Although the book is a critique of the SWP and many of the arguments may be familiar to people already, the book touches on many other points which are of interest to anyone on the left in terms of history, theory and various movements. The debate on revolutionary ideas, organisation and methods will become increasingly important and this book is worth reading for anyone who agrees with the necessity of this, especially current members of the SWP.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Socialists on the Criminal Justice System – Leon Trotsky

The second in my series of looks at the writings of socialists. This piece looks at the comments of Trotsky regarding the police that he makes in “Stalin’s Gangsters” a compilation of his articles that were published just before his assassination in Mexico in relation to a previous attempt. I also want to briefly comment upon the passage in What Next? Vital Question for the German Proletariat too.

The most bandied about quotation from Trotsky on the police is the one from What Next? Vital Questions for the German Proletariat which goes “The worker who becomes a policeman in the service of the capitalist state, is a bourgeois cop, not a worker.” This quotation is used by some ultra-left sects to put forward a blanket argument of the complete reactionary nature of all policemen. I don’t think this is necessarily the case as readers of this blog may have noticed, indeed the very sentence before this explains “Consciousness is determined by environment even in this instance”. Rather than saying that the police were wholly a reactionary mass at all times, what Trotsky was actually saying here is that the Prussian police which the SPD technically had control over couldn’t be relied upon as a bulwark against Hitler, indeed concretising that sentence he says “Of late years these policemen have had to do much more fighting with revolutionary workers than with Nazi students. Such training does not fail to leave its effects.”

But I am talking about another period, when Trotsky was in Mexico and the GPU was attempting to murder him. Here Trotsky touches upon a different element to the police – that of trying to catch perpetrators of crimes (that is infringements of the law that are reported to them) and take reasonable precautions to prevent crimes from occurring. Discussing this is frankly tricky – mostly because the police’s role as part of the state defending capitalism can often blend in with this so you get arbitrary controls to defend the capitalist state interests portrayed as vital measures to prevent crime (when fairly often they are nothing of the sort). Because the comments are so scattered I will not use quotations as I’m trying to draw the general line of thought in relation to this from a pamphlet that is mainly concerned with a political expose of the methods of Stalinism.

That there could be potential benefits from the police guarding him in Mexico, Trotsky was in no doubt. Otherwise he would have denounced them for doing so in this pamphlet. However, following the points made above, he also supplemented them with his own guard. During the investigation into the attempt on his life he also cooperated with the investigation and court proceedings. Again he supplemented this by collecting material, which as well as supplementing the political points he wished to make in regards, also added to his defence in court. What is the point I am trying to make? Well, in this respect of dealing with crime, a proportion of the actions of the police are socially useful. This is why I defend the idea of democratic control over the police – to give working people the decision on how the resources of the police are to be used.

Indeed whilst I would argue that a socialist society would cut away at the causes of crime, it is a little utopian to expect all crime to diminish and there be no need for investigative procedures to examine facts in relation to something. Expertise in this area would be something we would need to draw out of the police as it exists presently, and perhaps dedicated investigators may be initially necessary. But let us be clear – this would be on a completely different social and organisational basis – it would need to be clearly separated from security and guarding and be thoroughly democratised.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Democratic republic of Congo: Civil war erupts once again

From this weeks issue of The Socialist (NB. an shortened version of this article is also appearing in Seren, the newspaper of Bangor Students Union)

RENEWED FIGHTING has broken out around the city of Goma in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) between armed forces led by the rebel general Laurent Nkunda and those of the Congolese president Joseph Kabila, deepening the region's humanitarian crisis. The fighting is taking place as talks are on-going between the two protagonists, brokered by the United Nations special envoy, the former Nigerian president, Olusegun Obasanjo.
Iain Dalton reports on the background to this conflict, particularly the role of the western powers, multinational companies, regional elites and UN troops in fermenting and perpetuating the civil war.

IN THE last few weeks over 250,000 refugees have fled from North Kivu province in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC, formerly Zaire) near the border with Rwanda. This brings the total of internal refugees in the region to over one million.
Rebels in the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), under the control of ethnic Tutsi, Laurent Nkunda, have been advancing on government strongholds in the province - particularly the regional capital Gomu.
Although this conflict has only been major news headlines for the last few weeks it has been going on for years, since Nkunda rebelled against the DRC army in 2004.
The conflict has been a disaster for the people of the Congo. Since the civil war began in 1998 over five million people have been killed, life expectancy is only 45.8 years in the country as a whole, and in North Kivu it is 43.7 years; 73% of the population are in poverty.
Additionally the region has seen large usage of child soldiers and North Kivu province itself is the worst area for sexual violence in the world - according to United Nations (UN) 2007 figures there are around 350 rapes a month, although local figures suggest over 800 in April 2008 alone.

Unresolved conflict

Yet the civil war in the DRC was supposed to have ended in 2003. Then, a peace deal was signed to end six years of fighting after the deposition of the dictator Mobutu Sese-Seko. Laurent Kabila, who headed the Rwandan-backed forces Alliance des Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Congo-Zaïre (AFDL), tapped into the mass discontent with Mobuto's rule and declared himself president.
However, this coalition broke up almost as soon as Kabila took power and Rwanda in particular began backing a new rebellion, the Rassemblement Congolais pour la Democratie (RCD) to look after its own mineral interests in the country. Kabila was backed with arms and troops by the regimes of Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia.
In reality, however, an on-off civil war has been going on ever since the deposition of the first prime minister of the DRC, the anti-imperialist Patrice Lumumba in 1960.
The Belgian colonial government and other western powers had wanted a compliant stooge post-independence government. Lumumba was deemed too much of a threat to the imperialist powers and the CIA-backed colonel Mobutu took power in 1966.
The western powers considered Mobutu as a bulwark against communism in the region. He crushed the remaining Lumumba supporters (Lumumba had been executed in 1961) but sporadic revolts continued thereafter and were fought with the aid of western powers. Some rebels, such as Kabila, even carved out their own statelets within the country and financed themselves through trafficking gold and other materials.
The collapse of the USSR at the beginning of the 1990s meant that Mobutu's bloody regime became unnecessary for maintaining US interests in the country.
Added to the political crisis was the backlash from the ethnic civil war in Rwanda when over one million ethnic Hutus fled from the country - including many members of the Interahamwe militia which Mobutu used against the Tutsis in Kivu to prop up his failing regime. It is these same ethnic Hutu forces that Nkunda alleges government troops have been supporting in attacks on Tutsis and he claims that his rebellion is in defence of Tutsis, particularly his own native group the Banyamulenge.

Resource rich

The country's rich mineral resources (particularly diamonds, copper, zinc and coltan - which is used in mobile phones and computers) have been fought over in the civil war with various companies backing warlords with arms to facilitate their plundering of the country. A UN report named 85 multinationals that it believed to be "violating ethical guidelines" - such as Anglo-American, Standard Chartered Bank, De Beers etc.
But it isn't just the companies themselves. It is no accident that when an anti-imperialist government under Lumumba was elected in 1960, Belgian imperialism sought to support the break away of resource rich Katanga province in a manner that parallels the moves to autonomy by the Media Luna provinces in Bolivia.
Regional powers are also in on the act. Zimbabwe, one of the backers of the Laurent Kabila regime, was granted concessions in the diamond industry for example, whilst Rwandan forces control some mines in the Kivu region that the country borders that are protected by the RCD it backs.

Socialist answers

Imperialism and capitalism have devastated the DRC and it is ordinary people that are suffering. However, many journalists, international human right groups and aid agencies are still calling for intervention by foreign troops. For example, Johann Hari in the Independent (30/10/08) suggests that UN peacekeepers will need to be kept in the region to 'stabilise' the country and that a coltan-tax should be created to fund this.
But Monuc, the current UN peacekeeping force, has over 16,000 troops in the country and is blatantly failing to stop the abuses. Indeed UN documents disclosed by Human Rights Watch demonstrate how UN peacekeepers in Congo took part in weapons trading with rebels and smuggling.
These forces are part of the problem because by their very nature they are subordinated not to the needs of ordinary Congolese but to the imperialist powers that dominate the UN security council.
Like in Iraq at present, what is needed to combat the abuses of militias, rebels, government troops and 'peacekeepers' alike are democratic, working class-based defence organisations that can cut across the ethnic divides and build up the mass resistance of workers and peasants to both militia-backed warlords, multinational companies and the major capitalist powers.
Capitalism has failed in the DRC.It is only socialist ideas, such as taking the mineral resources into public ownership to use for the common good of society and not to fatten the pockets of warlords and big business, that can provide a way out of the nightmare for the working class and poor in the DRC.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Why say NO to disaffiliation?

This is an article written for the weekly paper of Sussex Students Union, the Badger, by Lee Vernon, Finance Officer at that Student Union and also a member of Socialist Students. I think it raises some interesting questions as to how to approach NUS if the governance review passes.

November 17, 2008 by Lee Vernon

I just wish to start by saying how much I hate NUS. Words can hardly do my bitterness justice, but saying I despise it with every ounce of my being is a pretty good description. I’m kinda the NUS expert around the Union and I challenge anyone to take that honour (god, please do).I attend just about any NUS event going only to sidelined, write numerous policy submissions that get ignored and speak at conferences only to be shouted down. Yep, I really hate NUS and yet, I say no to disaffiliation.
Yes the NUS is run by a bunch of bureaucrats and New Labour stooges who are hell bent on wrecking democracy and stand opposed to a lot of what Sussex stands for.
As a committed socialist and a member of Socialist Students, the NUS leadership is the evil doppelganger of all my beliefs. But this isn’t enough to warrant disaffiliation. Why? Because us leaving it would only disadvantage and isolate us whilst the NUS leadership would be overjoyed and the left wing weakened. Sussex remains one of the NUS’s biggest critics, and you can guarantee at every meeting, conference and event we’re there pushing for a strong democratic NUS that fights against marketisation and for free education.
Thanks to Sussex’s role in Save NUS Democracy, the first constitution got voted down, embarrassing the NUS leadership and forcing them to back down on and give us concessions.
We raise the political debate and show that a Union that engages it students and fights for them goes out and wins. We inspire other smaller Unions to campaign in the same way and are one of the few that hold the NUS to account at every corner.
Without us, I guarantee the NUS bureaucrats will sleep safer at night, knowing that it will be twice as easy to get its motions rubber stamped without so much as a peep. But we’ll be making a political statement I hear you say, I mean, really?
Sussex, with its reputation as the most left wing union in the country, leaving will hardly cause a ripple as one Union leaves and NUS continues as usual. And what happens to us? We become one Union against the world, with no national or regional representation.
Though we will save the £36,000 we give in affiliation fees. And then lose between £50,000-60,000 in savings in beer and shop goods we get through NUSSL (the NUS’s purchasing consortium). Not to mention all the training, connections, networking and resources we also get from NUS, along with the 10% student discount.
So to conclude disaffiliation gives us :
  • A 30k budget deficit
  • No representation nationally
  • No say in policy debates
  • No arena for networking
  • And of course, no discount card….

It is vital that Sussex stays in NUS, not just for the resources it gives us, but to continue to fight and hold it to account, networking and uniting with other activist unions and showing them that the way forward is genuine democracy, engagement and resistance.
The student movement needs an organisation to bring together all the Unions to fight nationally whilst supporting locally, and the NUS for all its faults is that organisation. Say No to disaffiliation, so we can continue to both fight and inspire on a national level .

Monday, 17 November 2008

Accidental Lawbreaking

Another break from Socialism 2008 reports (there are 3 more in the works). I basically need time to write them so I'm publishing this that I'd written beforehand.

Can you break a law by accident? Conventionally, to be found guilty of breaking a law you are usual assumed to have wilfully or recklessly done an action which breaks a law. I’m not sure how this stands leaglly, but to me that assumes that you have knowledge in general that said act is illegal. What if you didn’t though?
Now obviously the vast majority of people know that murder is a crime, the exceptions being very young children, people with serious mental health issues etc. The same can be said for most major crimes. However, what about minor crimes - the potential is there for this to occur.
I wish to cite a few cases how this may happen based on fact. Firstly, the crime may be a very obscure one. This is especially possible given the explosion in criminal offences in recent years. Secondly, there is the case of crimes that relate to a specific area – bye-laws for example could be broken by someone who is not from the area where that bye-law applies to. Thirdly there are the infamous ASBOs which have been used to blanket ban some activities – such as young people gathering in a certain area. Committing a crime in this instance can combine elements of the above – but ASBO’s aren’t criminal legislation although breaching them is a criminal offence.
So what could be done about this. One solution could perhaps be to make people aware of such laws – whether through general education in the case of obscure laws or signage in the case of specific area laws.
I think however, that a more pertinent question is whether we should criminalise these matters at all or whether they are better being dealt with informally. After all, our criminal justice system and prisons are completely clogged up. But I don’t mean by issuing on the spot penalties or administrative penalties to deal with such problems – that method is an essentially arbitrary one which is open to massive abuse. We really need a social approach to dealing with such minor offences rather than a criminal justice one who’s main effect seems to be criminogenic.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Review – What’s Going On? By Mark Steel (2008)

I wrote this review quite a while back, but given that Mark Steel was a speaker at the sunday rally at Socialism 2008 and some of the points he raised were also raised in this book it think it is apt to publish it now.

Mark Steel’s latest book is a tale of his very own personnel mid-life crisis. As his personal life breaks down seeing him sleeping on the couch at home, he also goes through a political divorce with the organisation he’s belonged to since he was a teenager, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP).
But both these personal episodes illustrate the bigger issue that Steel discusses throughout the book, the question of how we can take the anger that exists at the capitalist system and do something about it.
On of the main things Steel disputes throughout the book is the notion that the working class no longer exists. Although the large factories of traditional industrial working class are slowly being transferred abroad, Steel notes how layers such as civil servants and teachers now form parts of the working class. More importantly he notes how the supermarkets and other large retail stores have in effect become the factories of the 21st century with customers being the object the workforce there are processing – Steel picks out a good comparison of how in Subway customers order their sandwiches in a manner that is effectively a conveyer belt system.
Steel notes how events such as the movement against the Iraq war have drawn large numbers of people into opposition to the government , yet the potential for building a new party to represent workers has been squandered on several occasions, particularly by the leadership of the SWP.
Steel focuses on the ruins of Respect, noting how the SWP leadership were willing to overlook various factors ie. George Galloway’s lack of accountability to Respect etc. (of which the Socialist Party has been critical of Respect), but for George Galloway to issues a document mildly criticising John Rees, the National Secretary of Respect (and SWP Central Committee member) – this was a step too far.
The rest is history as they say. Steel gives plenty of examples of the control-freakery of the SWP leadership in the downfall of Respect. But given he also cites examples prior to this, including the inflation of membership numbers, the reader wonders why it took him so long to break politically from such people.
The book however, is well worth the read. Steel writes in a manner that is easy to understand and in a very humourous manner (as is to be expected being a comedian), but he also helps even those very politically aware understand things in new and insightful ways at the same time.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

A Necessary Hell? NUS Extraordinary Conference

A short interlude from reports back from Socialism 2008 - yes, I was unfortunate enough to get elected to NUS Extraordinary Conference yesterday.
Just for people's information we don't actually have cross campus ballot elections for NUS Conference anyway - we have elections at our Student Union general meetings. For this conference however, we elected delegates at our student senate (last year we didn't have any elections - they just delegated the same people as for National Conference). I managed to get 7 first preference votes, which isn't bad when you consider that other people who were elected got none (they beat RON on second preference). We really should have got someone else to stand but pretty much everyone was off home during reading week.
So I got the 7 o'clock train from Bangor with the rest of the Bangor delegation (all pro-governance review) and got to Wolverhampton and eventually found the conference. Socialist Students nationally didn't have a huge delegation, which was hampered somewhat by our members from Northumbria not being able to come to the conference because their student union couldn't afford it.
Anyway - I eventually got seated and we heard NUS President (and apparently not Labour Students chair), Wes Streeting speak (for the first of many times) saying that the NUS leadership had compromised with this new version of the constitution (yes, on secondary issues though!) and that people needed to vote for the governance review because NUS needs change (yes, NUS needs change, but not the kind of change that Wes is proposing).
And then we got to what was perhaps the most surreal bit - we had NUS Australia President Angus MacFarlane speaking - he didn't seem particularly left wing but what he described had happened in Australia seemed like a vision for NUS UK's future. He described how tuition fees had been brought in 20 or so years ago by the then Labor government in Australia and how the Howard government had increased fees by 25%, and had brought in variable fees for different courses as well as slashing government grants. In 2000 they brought in legislation that allowed universities to charge whatever they liked if they waived entry tests.
The Howard governments also introduced voluntary student unionism in 2005. This made union membership opt-in, banned collections of fees and banned contributions from Universities such as block grants. You'd be suprised to hear that 1/3 of all SU's in Australia collapsed as a result of this. The only bright thing he pointed out was that Labor had abolished some full fee places since it had got back in and that we should all vote against neo-liberalism.
Anyway - after that was lunch and a chance to catch up with some comrades from elsewhere in the country before back into the furnace. What I thought were some good motions from Sussex in particular got voted down and basically their premises trampled on by conference - the motions from Sussex advocated:
1) That the more representative annual conference (with at least 500-650 more delegates present) should have the deciding say on the constitution - basically stopping them calling more extraordinary conferences
2) That we should bring back a properly organised winter conference instead of continually not getting enough stuff passed through annual conference and instead of the ever continuing extraordinary conferences
3) That there should not be external trustees on the board of NUS as they are unnecessary

There were some truly weird moments - like the conference documents containing the word 'udders' instead of 'used' (I reckon whoever typed the document up was having a laugh) or the person from Warwick SU who in the debate on cross-campus votes for NUS delegates argued against it likening this to voting for the Home Secretary or other government figures (well some of them are elected MP's but it's not really such a bad thing going the whole hog either).

There were some good speeches from the no campaign - Lee Vernon's (Sussex SU Finance Officer and Socialist Students) speech (his second) on the Winter Conference motion was really good and I thought Daniel Randall's closing speech against the new constitution was very good too. I thought Rob Owen varied a hell of a lot and most of his weren't so good (there was a really good one at one point though) - but I wasn't impressed with the amount of times people waved his speech to him - if it would have been possible for this conference to have a close vote then this wouldn't be such a good tactic when the NUS leadership is trying to portray the new constitution as being of the students rather than their little baby. Indeed rather than saying we only need a 1/3 surely it would have been better to talk more like Lee Vernon and Daniel Randall did about the need for a campaigning strategy. Of course - it was never going to be close and that was the whole point of rushing the thing through an extraordinary conference at very short notice - to completely shut out as best as possible real ordinary students in favour of what NUS refer to as ordinary students (namely SU sabbatical officers, trustees or people who have been one or the other).
For those who don't already know the NUS leaderhsip got a big majority 614 YES, 142 No and 8 abstentions - hardly suprising. Despite Wes Streeting trying to distance himself from calling another extraordinary conference - I think he wants this as he doesn't want to chance the far more representative annual conference - but its so undemocratic that he doesn't want to associate itself with himself so he can say that 'ordinary students' called for it.

PS. - On the way back I heard some news to do with the SU at Glyndwr Uni in Wrexham is not getting some or all of it's block grant because Glyndwr Uni had lots of money invested in Icelandic banks - not sure how accurate that is, it needs checking, but Universities will feel able to do this with impunity becuase of the toothlessness of many Student Unions.